Even dead girls can be sentimental. It’s Christmas Night 2011, but tonight I’m transported back through Christmases past.
The pinnacle of the holiday season for me as a child was our annual family Christmas celebrations. I came from parents that each had a slightly large extended family, and two evenings a season would be dedicated to partyin’ with them. I loved decorating the tree, driving around light-gawking, and of course, the time spent decorating sugar cookie cutouts with my mom. And I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve shopping, opening stockings, and playing the records I usually received from my parents really loud in the living room the night before Christmas. And Santa’s arrival with my grandparents there to share in our Christmas morning joy was always wonderful, but the family Christmas parties were my hands-down favorite seasonal events!
I was extremely close to my grandmother (dad’s mom). As Christmas approaches every year, I get extremely sentimental about her love for the holiday. Sure, she loved all the holidays. We spent Fourth of July at the lake with her awesome macaroni salad. She made us goody bags and watched scary movies with me on Halloween, and Thanksgiving was splendidly loaded with her traditional favorites like carrot-lime jello and deviled eggs, but Christmas was my grandma’s most beloved holiday, and she steeped it with so much tradition, joy, and fun.
To prepare for this sacred night, we spent hours at the dining room table wrapping armloads of gifts to put under a meager Christmas tree that made Charlie Brown’s tree look glorious. My grandparents’ tree wasn’t bald or tiny. I just remember it looking quite homely with silk ornaments and cheap plastic icicles I loved hanging on every branch.
Grandma and I would work many evenings baking batch after batch of cookies-nothing too complex or elaborately decorated because my grandmother liked simple and very traditional treats. Peanut butter with the hatch cross tops; peanut butter blossoms with the Hershey’s Kisses I’d unwrap until my fingers cramped, and cherry chip cookies that looked so festive on her round cookie platters. We’d whip up pounds of rich, marshmallowy fudge and glassy peanut brittle. Then, we’d store every baked good in these huge plastic conical tubs until the night arrived to dress up the cookie plates.
Party Night was magical. The entire family would arrive dressed in their holiday finest. Your senses would be overtaken with Christmas! The scent of grandma’s goodies, grandpa’s turkey, and all the other yuletide yummies invited you in. The sound of Bing Crosby crooning about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer reminded you that Santa would soon be visiting! The sight of garland draped gaudily over anything that stood still made you giggle alongside the cousins you couldn’t wait to run through the house beside. We cousins would eat food that filled three rooms of the small home. We’d congregate at tables, talking excitedly over each other, wondering aloud about the surprises each wrapped box contained. And when Santa ho-ho-hoed through the front door, we’d stampede into the living room for a chance to sit on his lap and tell him exactly what we wanted to find under our own trees Christmas morning. We’d sing fun carols like Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. We’d open gifts. We’d eat again, this time desserts, and sometimes sneak sips of wine cocktails and Aunt Shirley’s beer while we helped her belt out classic Willie Nelson tunes. Family feuds were put aside. Financial hardship and troubled homes did not exist. It was definitely a time of good tidings, comfort, and joy. Ah, good times for sure.
In my adulthood, with both grandparents gone, I’ve missed the parties, but moreso the warm fuzzy feelings I left with after a night with my family. In more recent pasts, I’ve tried to replicate the sensation by resurrecting grandma’s cookie and candy recipes, putting together keepsake recipe scrapbooks as gifts to my aunts, and attending every year’s family Christmas party-still. I even bought a copy of Bing Crosby’s greatest holiday hits because it was my grandpa’s seasonal soundtrack. He loved singing along to Bing’s White Christmas, and I loved being the little girl he chose to dance with most often under the mistletoe. But in my heart, I know things would never feel the same. And they shouldn’t. They can’t. No matter how many bricks of fudge I make or how loud I play that cd, the greatness of the past will never be duplicated, and I’m willing to accept it after all these years of wishful thinking.
So this year, I really did move on. I refused to pull out grandma’s old recipes, and I tried a few new treats of my own. I’m ready to pave my own edible holiday legacy, create goodies that my granddaughters will someday treasure in books or recipe boxes or on cookie platters. By the looks of my own empty cookie platters, I’d like to think I’m well on my way!
My gift to you this season as Christmas 2011 inevitably comes to a close-a couple cookie recipes that I think turned out exceptionally well this year (for their debut appearance on my sideboard). Happy Holidays!!
Recipe #1: Bedford Falls Oatmeal Cookies
(Makes about 2 dozen)
Inspired by Frank Capra’s dramatic masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life, these would be appropriate during the holiday season, but certainly are not intended to just be enjoyed for Christmas. (As you should know, Capra’s movie was not intended as a holiday film, but if it looks and feels like Christmas may as well be Christmas). I made a few wonderful changes of my own to traditional oatmeal raisin cookies. You may not be running through the streets hollering Merry Christmas to the town because you’ll be too busy stuffing your face with these little angels! Now, if only I had a cold glass of milk and a young Jimmy Stewart to share them with….
½ c shortening
¾ brown sugar
½ c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
11/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
3 c quick-cooking oats
1 entire bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips (I highly encourage Hershey’s)
1 c toffee bits (I highly recommend Heath English Toffee bits)
Cookie sheets and a cookie scoop
Obligatory Reminder: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Do not grease cookie sheets unless you want really runny cookies.
-In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and both sugars with a hand/stand mixer.
-Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to a creamy submission. Add the vanilla until well blended.
-In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
-By hand, stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture until well blended.
-Fold in the good stuff: oats, chocolate chips, and toffee bits.
-Using your cookie scoop, add mounds of dough onto the cookie sheets at least 2 inches apart. Don’t have a cookie scoop? Use a standard table spoon. (Think about asking Santa for a cookie scoop next year.)
-Bake for about 10-12 mins or until the edges are slightly browned.
-Cool 5 mins on the pan before cooling on your wire racks. Don’t have wire racks? What kind of baking loser are you?? Darn it, use a newspaper lined tabletop for cooling. These can be stored airtight for about a week.
Recipe #2: Mrs. Kringles’ Crinkles
(Makes about 5-6 dozen, depending on how large you make em)
I don’t have nothin’ on Mrs. Claus when it comes to cookie baking I’m sure, so I thought I’d humbly rename the classic crinkle cookie after her. Unbelievably, I’ve never made these babies until this year. After one bite, I’m regretting that. Oh well. They have certainly been added to my “must-bake” nice list for Christmases future.
2 c sugar
¾ c vegetable oil
1 c baking cocoa (I highly recommend Hershey’s)
4 eggs (yep, you counted right)
2 tsp vanilla
2 ½ c flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
At least 11/2 c of powdered sugar
Note to You: This cookie dough needs at least an hour of chill time in the fridge.
Obligatory Reminder: Set oven to 350 degrees when you are ready to bake. Cookie sheet greasing/prepping is not necessary.
-In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil and the sugar.
-Add the cocoa until nicely combined.
-Beat in the eggs (one at a time, please) and the vanilla.
-In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
-Take your time. Slowly add the dry mix to the cocoa mix. Beat into a creamy submission.
-Cover the dough. Chill it out in the fridge for at least an hour. The dough should be firm enough to handle.
-Shape dough into 1 inch balls if you want small cookies. Go larger for bigger cookies.
-Roll the dough into a shallow dish of powdered sugar.
-Pop them on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.
-Bake about 10-12 mins. You will know these are done when you see the slight cracks forming along the tops of the cookies.
-Cool for about 3 mins before moving to wire racks to cool completely.
-Do not overbake or these yummies become like mud-packed snowballs!! Hard as ice, I warn you.
Mrs. Kringle’s Crinkles are center stage with Bedford Falls Oatmeal Cookies taking a supporting role. And sorry-no North Pole elves around to fix the date stamp on my camera. Grrrr.